'Screenagers' starts tech conversation
Posted on: Apr 6, 2018
Over 480 citizens from Delano and surrounding communities attended the “Screenagers” showing in the Delano Middle School auditorium on Thursday evening, April 5.
“Both parents and kids said the research presented was very thought-provoking,” said Delano High School Principal Dr. Steve Heil, who arranged to bring the video to the community and also showed a classroom version to all high school students earlier in the day. “A lot of people noticed how much the kids in the documentary reflected the parents’ behaviors, so it’s a two-way street.”
“Screenagers” is an award-winning documentary from Stanford-trained physician and filmmaker Delaney Ruston that explores the impact of screen time on students, the friction it can cause in homes and schools, and possible solutions.
Early in the film Delaney says that children spend an average of 6.5 hours per day outside of school in front of screens – on computers, smart phones or in front of TV.
“As a doctor I was curious about what impact that had on kids, and as a mom I needed to know what to do,” she said.
Delano High School students informally surveyed after the film said it addressed legitimate issues, but generally said smart phone use was not a major distraction in the local classroom.
“It’s fine when you look at your phone during lunch or something like that, but not during class,” said freshman Daniel Screeden.
Others said teachers in Delano make their own classroom policies, but it’s common to make sure phones are not accessible during tests. Heil confirmed that practice.
“It’s up to the teachers,” he said. “Some teachers use them for educational purposes. Some teachers have kids put their phones in a place where it won’t bother anyone. Some let them listen to music during work time. In reality, 90 percent of the time phones are put away.”
Junior Shannon Russek said much of the information presented in the documentary in terms of how screen time affects students was not surprising because that conversation has already started at DHS.
“Teachers tell us all the time we shouldn’t be on phones constantly, because it affects this or that,” she said.
While some aspects were familiar, other students found the medical and psychological findings compelling evidence for moderation.
“It was interesting to know the things it does to you neurologically,” one said.
Overall, students agreed that excessive screen time was a potential problem, and that parent involvement to provide boundaries was important. In the case of student distraction, those surveyed said the issue goes deeper than technology and is more a fundamental matter of respect.
In “Screenagers,” a student claims that wasting class time and not paying attention only affects the individual and does not cause a wider disruption.
“I’m so distracted by my phone I have a hard time listening to my teacher and understanding what they’re saying,” another says.
In the film, Delaney’s adolescent daughter voices some of the common reasons young people want phones, including the impression that they feel more connected and that all their friends have them.
A number of experts explain how the discovery of new information releases dopamine in the brain, and that young people’s brains have not yet fully developed to resist the distraction impulse generated by things like social media updates.
Psychologists explain how focusing on a device helps young people avoid the “adversity of interaction” with one another personally, but hinders the development of empathy and a sense of self.
Games and social media
Another issue for many young boys, in particular, is video games. “Screenagers” claims that many young people play more than 11 hours of video games – the equivalent of 1.5 days of school – per week.
“When I try to stop him from playing games he turns into a different person,” laments one grandmother.
The documentary says social media can be dangerous for girls, in particular, because of its superficial nature and focus on outward appearance.
“It’s a competition, but you never win and it never ends,” a girl in the video says.
Part of the problem with overstimulation through rapid-sequence screens and body consciousness, according to the film, is that it actually tires the brain and reduces cognitive ability. Scientific studies in mice have shown that overstimulated animals had less brain capacity for learning and memory, and that physical changes in the brain as a result of that environment were permanent.
A key to addressing the problem shown in the film is open communication between parents and their students, allowing young people to be open about their digital lives. The importance of modeling behavior was also emphasized, as students interviewed in the film often said their parents were not applying the same standards of eye contact and electronic moderation to themselves.
Students also said that if parents took the time to explain why they wanted to place boundaries on screen time, they were more receptive and willing to comply.
“The mistake parents make is they assert their authority without explaining the reason,” says one researcher.
Other solutions offered included smart phone contracts outlining expectations, and dedicated conversation time like “Tech Talk Tuesdays.”
Heil said there was general appreciation for the school’s participation in the conversation around technology use.
“A lot of people said they were glad we did something like this, and they hoped we would do more in the future,” he said.
• For more details about the information presented in “Screenagers” and additional resources about the topic, see www.screenagersmovie.com.